Wonder Woman 1984 (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Audiences will get to see “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day after all. After much speculation, Warner Bros. announced that the superhero sequel will debut on the streaming service HBO Max on Dec. 25, the same day it will open in U.S. movie theaters.
Internationally, where HBO Max is not available, “Wonder Woman 1984” will premiere in cinemas one week earlier, on Dec. 16. The film will stream on HBO Max for a month at no additional cost to subscribers.
“As we navigate these unprecedented times, we’ve had to be innovative in keeping our businesses moving forward while continuing to super-serve our fans,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, which includes Warner Bros. Pictures. “This is an amazing film that really comes to life on the big screen and, working with our partners in the exhibition community, we will provide that option to consumers in the U.S. where theaters are open. We realize that a lot of consumers can’t go back to the movies due to the pandemic, so we also want to give them the option to see Wonder Woman 1984 via our HBO Max platform.”
The decision to forgo a traditional theatrical release is surprising because “Wonder Woman 1984” was expected to be one of the biggest films of 2020 and had the potential to surpass $1 billion in ticket sales. The $200 million-budgeted movie was originally supposed to hit theaters this past summer. However, it was delayed time and time again amid the coronavirus crisis. Many were skeptical that “Wonder Woman 1984” would keep its Christmas Day release date since 50% of U.S. cinemas are closed and people are still hesitant to see a movie in theaters. Industry experts assumed that like “Black Widow,” “Fast & Furious 9,” “No Time to Die” and other potential blockbusters, “Wonder Woman 1984” would be postponed until 2021.
Yet the move to digital is not entirely unexpected. Earlier in the pandemic, Warner Bros. opted to send titles such as “Scoob” to premium video-on-demand and “The Witches” to HBO Max. Though not ideal for theater owners, “Wonder Woman’s” hybrid release plan gives beleaguered multiplexes a lifeline. Normally, major cinema chains would refuse to showcase a big movie that is debuting simultaneously in theaters and at home. In fact, Universal Pictures received the brunt end of criticism after the studio decided to launch “Trolls World Tour” on digital rental services in April, when most cinemas were shuttered due to the pandemic. But months into a global health crisis that has no end in sight, many theater operators are struggling to make ends meet — and they’re desperate for new product to show.
WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar emphasized the company’s commitment to the exhibition community. Theater operators have been especially grateful to Warner Bros. during the pandemic because the studio took a bold bet in the summer to open Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in cinemas despite enormous headwinds facing the box office.
“We believe in theaters because hundreds of millions of fans around the world value going to the movies,” Kilar said in a statement. “And for as long as fans seek out the theatrical experience, we will be there to serve them with great movies in partnership with exhibitors.”
Debuting “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max instead of postponing the film until next year means forgoing substantial box office returns. But the hope is that offering a splashy tentpole will drive subscribers to HBO Max, which has struggled to compete against Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. HBO Max costs $15 a month.
“Wonder Woman” was a massive critical and commercial hit in 2017, generating more than $800 million at the global box office. As one of the rare comic book movies to spotlight a female superhero, it also became a cultural touchstone and solidified itself as one of Warner Bros.’ most important properties.
“We appreciate how patient audiences have been given the great anticipation around ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ and we are grateful to be able to make this terrifically entertaining movie widely available in these challenging times,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group.
The follow-up picks up with Gal Gadot’s Amazonian warrior during the Cold War as she battles two formidable foes — Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) — while reuniting with her past love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). The cast also includes Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen.
Patty Jenkins, who directed “Wonder Woman” and the sequel, was bittersweet as she addressed the news on social media.
“The time has come,” she wrote on Twitter. “At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else. We love our movie as we love our fans, so we truly hope that our film brings a little bit of joy and reprieve to all of you this holiday season.”
She urged fans to seek out the movie where they feel is safest.
“Watch it in theaters, where it is made safe to do so (check out the great work theaters have done to make it so!) And available in the safety of your home on HBO Max where it is not,” she said. “Happy holidays to all of you. We hope you enjoy our film as much as we enjoyed making it.”
In his statement, Kilar noted that over four million people in the U.S. saw “Wonder Woman” in theaters on opening day.
“Is it possible for that to happen again this Christmas with Wonder Woman 1984 between theaters and HBO Max?” he asked. “We are so excited to find out, doing everything in our power to provide the power of choice to fans.”
Variety's Rebecca Rubin contributed to this post.